The very last act of worship in the Prayer Book’s Communion service (unless you have a hymn or other music after this, as the rubrics permit) is the Dismissal on page 122 and 138.  This is an import from the Roman Rite (and the 1979 Prayer Book); the classical Prayer Book tradition didn’t include a dismissal, but ended with the Blessing.  That being said, most (if not all) of the 1928 Prayer Book parishes that I’ve visited have tacked on a Dismissal to the end of the liturgy anyway!  I guess it really helps for the celebrant, or deacon, to tell people that the liturgy is over.

The rubrics state “The Deacon, or the Priest, may dismiss the People with these words“.  This indicates three things:

  1. If there is a deacon serving, he is the one should say this.  The priest only says it in the absence of a deacon.
  2. The Dismissal is optional, and may be left off, according to the historic Prayer Book pattern.
  3. The Dismissals provided are the complete list of approved dismissals; we’re not technically supposed to re-word them or make up different ones.  (Not that this is a massively critical piece of the worship service that will undermine the entire Christian Faith if we mess it up, but at the very least it avoids confusion if we don’t go “off-script” too far.)

The four dismissals all have the same response by the congregation: “Thanks be to God.” though “Alleluia, alleluia” is indicated to be added from the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost.  “It may be added at other times, except during Lent and on other penitential occasions.”  This is a concession to popular practice, I suspect; traditionally, additional Alleluia’s are only found in that Easter-Ascension-Pentecost block of time.

Identifying the choices and when to use them

The four dismissals provided are not accompanied with any suggestions about times of year for use, allowing a parish or deacon to stick to one favorite all the time, use whichever one catches the deacon’s fancy at the time, or make a choice according to liturgical mood or tone.

Let us go forth in the Name of Christ.

This is perhaps the most straight-forward dismissal, and the one I find myself using the most often.  The word “Name” is capitalized here, as it often is in liturgical texts, because “the Name of Christ” or of God is of particular theological significance.  The Name, in ancient understanding, is representative of the power, authority, even presence, of the one named.  Regarding both the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting) and the Temple in Jerusalem, God said he would make his Name dwell there.  So when we depart in the Name of Christ, the implication is that we carry Christ with us, out from the church gathering and into the ordinary world around us.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The second dismissal is more like a “mission statement reminder”, giving the people particular instructions on their way out.  The call to love and service may make this dismissal particularly appropriate in penitential seasons, when there are concrete spiritual disciplines being preached from the pulpit, or otherwise commended in the lessons.

Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the longest and most specific dismissal.  It points us out into the world, like the first two, but, rather than emphasizing good works like the second, it suggests a continued life of worship like the first.  Rather than centering us on Christ, though, this dismissal centers us on the Holy Spirit.  This perhaps makes it particularly appropriate for the Day of Pentecost and other occasions that share that emphasis.  And, lest one misconstrue a Pentecostal excess, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Let us bless the Lord.

The appearance of this stark and brief dismissal in some of the Holy Week services in the 1979 Prayer Book suggested that this is an appropriate dismissal for that time of year, but I haven’t found it there in our new prayer book, which frees this dismissal to an “any time” status.  As it is found at the end of the Daily Offices too, this simplest of dismissals may find their natural home in brief weekday Communion services or the ordinary Sundays of Trinitytide.

The Dismissal historically

The most common nickname for the service of Holy Communion among the Papists is “the Mass”.  That name comes from the usual traditional Latin dismissal “ite, missa est.”  I have often heard it said that the word missa indicates “mission”, that we’re being sent into the world bring the Gospel to all nations.  While this is a fine sentiment, and perhaps even an implication of the idea of the dismissal, that’s not what the word really is.  There is some linguistic discussion on its precise etymology and origin, which you can read about on the Wikipedia page linked above, but basically the missa here refers either to the congregation which is being sent, or to the dismissal being said.  Mission is a fine and proper implication, but not the direct meaning of that dismissal.

This background insight translates pretty well into our four dismissals, in that some of ours indicate a “missional” character and others don’t.  Both are valid interpretations of the purpose and message of the dismissal.  In your own ministry context, be sure you don’t pigeon-hole the dismissal into an overly-narrow field of meaning.

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